November 23 2011
Father Christmas is an incongruous fixture in the pretty Cotswold market town of Lechlade. The life-sized figure, which stands outside The Christmas Shop all year round, is gigantic and jolly, too gaudily rosy-cheeked to blend in with the quiet greys of the historic stone houses. Santa, eyes bulging merrily, holds a mischievous finger up to his lips.
If your Christmas decorations tend towards the sleek and minimalist, the Lechlade shop is probably not for you. Go if you are someone who celebrates Christmas as an opportunity to revel in nostalgia and fun, and to indulge in a rainbow-coloured tinsel-and-bauble fest.
Throughout the year, the shop sells everything from incense burners in the shape of mushrooms or Bavarian landladies to saucy striptease Russian dolls. And there is plenty of kitsch: where else can you buy big, blowsy angels in sparkly red velvet (£13) or snowy villages glimmering with fibre optics (from £28) in the middle of summer?
The shop opened 26 years ago and provided Christmas cheer to homesick American airmen based at nearby RAF Fairford. “Many of the men had served in Germany, so they loved all the traditional decorations,” says Judy Hurt, who bought the shop with her husband, Wayne, seven years ago.
Some of her stock is pricy but of good quality, such as her candle arches or classic nativity scenes carved from olivewood in Bethlehem (up to £130) and solid-resin figurines (from £9). “Nowadays, figurines are hollow and smash easily. The resin ones are hard to find,” she says, picking up a Father Christmas. “You rarely get this detail any more,” she enthuses, showing me the pair of cheeky penguins at Santa’s feet, the toy train winding round his waist, the dolls, presents and toy soldiers in his arms.
Some of her stock includes gimmicks such as Santa and reindeer sitting on a bench and singing (£46) or a flying Santa in a vintage plane (£35). Noisy and garish they may be, irresistible to children they certainly are.
However much one might wince at the glitz, Judy is a confident, canny buyer. “Shoes and bags are always in,” she says of her tree decorations, showing me pearly handbags (£4) and sparkly red Dorothy shoes (£3), both bestsellers. “People love these too,” she says, showing me a big heap of decorated sacks and stockings (from £5) and then an entire corner devoted to wooden advent calendars (from £20).
The Christmas Shop may not be a source of Conran-style elegance, but it is a one-stop destination for all things bright and, above all, Christmassy.